Two girlfriends and I are strongly thinking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for our 40th birthdays and we’re not sure how to get started. We're experienced climbers, but we don’t know about the logistics of things, like if we need to train, how we make arrangements, what to expect, etc. Can someone tell us what the experience was like and what you wish you knew before you started? We’ve heard it can be harrowing but we want to do it anyway. This wouldn't be for another year, possibly two, but we're pretty set on doing this and want to plan ahead!
Thats awesome that you and your friend are thinking about climbing to the roof of Africa!! I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago while I was living in East Africa and can tell you my personal experience on planning and training for the climb. It was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone considering a climb!! It's a great way to celebrate a significant milestone in your life!!
Start planning 6-12 months from when you plan to climb the mountain. This gives you enough time to select the best time to go up, a reputable tour operator, train for the climb and buy the right gear.
Select a good time of the year to climb:
Avoid climbing during the long rainy season in Tanzania from March through May and the short rainy season in November. Best times to climb are September - October and December - February.
I climbed in September and experienced great weather. It rained for half a day on the second day of the climb but remained dry for the rest of the climb.
Pick a climbing route:
There are 6 routes to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro with durations that range from 5 to 8 days. Each route has its own pros and cons depending on what your personal preferences is in terms of scenery, traffic and difficulty.
The most popular routes are the Marangu Gate "Coca Cola" routes which is the only route with huts at each camp for trekkers to sleep in and the Kilimanjaro National Park Machame Gate "Whiskey" route where you'll be camping in tents at each camp. I personally trekked the Machame 6 day route as I read that it was the favorite route for the guides and offered a great acclimatization with its 'climb high and sleep low' itinerary to help reduce altitude sickness.
Select a local tour operator:
Once you know when you are going to climb and which route you'd like to climb it's time to start selecting a tour operator that will take you up the mountain and provide support for your climb. Your tour operator will guide you up the mountain and carry most of your equipment and cook for you during your climb. It's important to select a tour operator that you know is high quality and that you can trust. The Tanzanian Government requires that a local guide/tour operator based out of Tanzania guides trekkers up the mountain.
Always book with a local tour guide as you'll save 2-3 times than what it would cost if you booked the climb with a travel agent/tour operator in the U.S./U.K. Travel agents in the U.S. such as REI will charge up to $6-7k for a climb when that climb is ultimately subcontracted to a local tour operator in based in Moshi or Arusha. When you book with a local tour operator you can expect to pay $1.5k-$2.5k for the climb depending on the route you select. It's a huge price difference when you book directly and you'll end up supporting the local community by allow more of your funds to go to the local economy.
When selecting a local tour operator make sure to select a reputable operator. Look for past reviews and ask them to see copies of all of the required licenses that they need to operate as a local tour operator.
Since Mt. Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb and special climbing skills are not required most of the training is for endurance so that your body is ready for trekking uphill for 6-9 hours a day for 5-9 days straight. Depending on your current physical state, 3-6 months of training should be sufficient to be ready for the climb. There are amazing stories of those with severe disabilities such a Spencer West who summited Kili with no legs.
The standard recommendations is to go on long hikes carrying a 25 lbs load in preparation for the climb. Start with shorter duration hikes and then gradually extend the hikes to up to 8 hours. If you don't have the luxury of time or the ability to go on long hikes outdoors a good alternative is the stair master machine at gyms or even climbing several flights of stairs as part of your training. My climbing partner trained for the climb solely on climbing 30 flights of stairs repeatedly to train her legs for the climb. She summited the peak successfully! It's also suggested to go on hikes at high altitudes if possible to allow your body to start getting used to high altitudes.
Be sure to research what immunizations you may need prior to traveling to Tanzania and what medications are available for you to bring with you in the event you experience altitude sickness. Also make sure you pack the right gear for your climb. The tour operators usually have a great list of items you should bring.
A great tip is that you don't need to buy all your equipment such as sleeping backs, trekking poles etc. as there are companies in Tanzania such as Gladys Adventure http://gladysadventure.com/equipment.htm where you can rent all the equipment that you may need for your climb at a very reasonable price .
Additional climbing resources:
Slideshare Kilimanjaro Presentation (When to start planning, when to climb, what to bring etc.) - goo.gl/bsRbKM
Excellent comprehensive book on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro by Henry Steadman who has climbed mountain himself several times- goo.gl/97zC2r
I hope this helps and is not too much info. all at once! Let me know if you have any other questions as I've helped a few friends with their Kili planning. Good luck on your climb!
Mentioned in this answer:
First if you're exeprienced climbers you shoud not be afraid because the way to the summit is pretty easy... simple hiking until the summit : the only diffculty as for the other high summits on the planet is the sickness due to the altitude.
So as the guides will explain you : just walk "pole pole" and everything will goes well ! ;-)
We need to know that credit card could not work when you want to pay your ascension and cash is not accepted therefore having a guide with you could help...
I recently did the same for my 40th! I climbed in late May of 2013 and made it right to the top. My trip was fantastic. I used zaratours.com and combined my climbed with a safari (before) and relaxing in Zanzibar after. You can check out more details on my blog: the-tipsygypsy.blogspot.ca